Scheme enlists farmers in bid to save hen harriers

Q&A Hen Harrier Project. 

A typical 23-hectare farm, in GLAS, with peatland and grassland habitats, could qualify for Hen Harrier Programme payments totalling €2,200 in year one, rising to €3,700 in year two, writes Stephen Cadogn.

In the first two weeks after the Programme was launched on December 8, more than 380 Expressions of Interest were received.

The programme’s aim is to save one of Ireland’s most endangered birds, the Hen Harrier.

It is described as a practical, results-based approach to farming, flexible and locally adaptable.

“This scheme is targeted specifically at farmers with designated land and should provide farmers in those areas with an important additional income stream on top of GLAS and GLAS Plus,” said Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.

It is an opportunity for farmers to be recognised and rewarded for delivering environmental benefits, and an additional opportunity for them to earn an income from their land.

Where is the programme available, and how long does it last?

It is a five-year programme targeted specifically at farmers with land in the Slieve Beagh (Co Monaghan), Slieve Bloom Mountains (Cos Offaly and Laois), Slieve Felim to Silvermines Mountains (Cos Tipperary and Limerick), Slieve Aughty Mountains (Cos Galway and Clare), Stacks to Mullaghereirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills and Mount Eagle (Cos Cork, Kerry, and Limerick), and Mullaghanish to Musheramore Mountains (Co Cork) Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

What is the potential payment for a typical farm?

The example is given of a typical 23-hectare farm, in GLAS, with peatland and grasssland habitats.

Peatland and grassland in GLAS are each given a relative habitat value of 60.

Relative habitat value varies from 50 for scrub/woodland to 150 for species-rich grassland not in GLAS (values are lower in GLAS land). Wet grassland is the main grassland found in the SPAs; it has a relative habitat value of 60 in GLAS, 100 not in GLAS.

The land is assessed for how good its hen harrier foraging and nesting resources are, and the result is combined with the relative habitat value, to arrive at a figure for Potential Habitat Points.

The 14 “fields” in the 23-hectare example farm have Potential Habitat Points ranging from 16 to 251, and totalling 1,399.

The fields are scored annually out of 10 for habitat suitability (farmers can manage the fields in ways that will improve the habitat condition).

Fields that score three or less receive zero points.

In the example, if fields are scored from three to eight, points are awarded at the rate of three tenths to eight tenths of the Potential Habitat Points.

If points total 612, this is multiplied by €2 to arrive at a payment of €1,224 (it is €2 for up to 1,000 habitat points; €1.50 for 1,001 to 2,000; €1 for 2,001 to 3,000; and $0.75 for 3,000 plus points).

In year two, if the example landowner can improve the score for each field by one, the farm is awarded 869 points, for a payment of €1,738 (€2 each).

From year two, supporting actions payments may also be claimed annually.

For this 23-ha farm, that would be a maximum of €920.

Participant farmers may also qualify for one or both of a Hen Harrier SPA Level Payment and a Local Nest or Winter Roost Payment. A farm must have at least one field with a score of six or greater to qualify.

The example farm could potentially receive up to €1,000 in year one.

The SPA Level Payment rewards participating farmers whose SPA continues to support a stable or increasing Hen Harrier population.

If SPA level goals are achieved, all participating farmers with a field scoring six or higher in that SPA will qualify for this dividend.

Participants qualify for the Local Nest or Winter Roost Payment based on having at least one field with a field score of six or higher within a defined distance of a breeding site/ winter roost site or a successful nest site.

How is this different from previous schemes?

It is described as a novel ‘hybrid’ approach to farming for conservation, because it is locally targeted, designed to build strong partnerships with farmers to deliver sustainable benefits for biodiversity, upland ecosystems and a vibrant local rural economy.

It values participation and co-operation in the delivery of environmental objectives.

It encourages and rewards farming for conservation with incentives and support, rather than penalties.

Farmers make the decisions for their own farm. They are supported with training and advice, and rewarded for their achievements.

What does Payment for Results Mean?

All eligible land will be scored annually with a user friendly scorecard, and

receives a score.

Higher scores mean higher payments. This gives farmers the incentive to manage their fields in ways that will improve the habitat condition, and their payment as well.

An annual farm plan will contain a list of actions (jobs) which are nominated by the farmer with the aim of

improving the site’s management and conservation condition for the benefit of the Hen Harrier.

How is the Programme funded?

The Hen Harrier Project is an EIP (European Innovation Partnership) Locally Led Scheme. The Project is funded by the Departsment of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as part of Ireland’s Rural

Development Programme 2014-2020.

When did the Programme open?

The Programme opened for expressions of interest from farmers with land in Hen Harrier SPAs on December 8, 2017.

What does the application process involve?

The farmer applies by submitting an Expression of Interest Form. This is a single page form requesting name, address, telephone and herd number. The Project will use this form to request access to the applicant’s Basic Payment Scheme details through the Department’s systems.

Where can I get more information?

See the www.henharrierproject.ie website.

Scheme welcomed in Co Cork SPAs: page 12.

Next week; more questions on the new scheme answered.

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